Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence



Examination of Witnesses (Questions 780-799)

JULIE MELLOR, JOHN SHARMAN, BRYAN HEISER, DANIEL SILVERSTONE AND BERT MASSIE

THURSDAY 13 JUNE 2002

  780. So are you saying now it is not, in your case, the Home Secretary?
  (Mr Silverstone) It is; well, it is the Home Secretary, yes.

  781. So you put recommendations—
  (Mr Silverstone) I say "we" broadly. The CRE has just appointed, the Home Secretary has just appointed, six new Commissioners for the CRE, who took up post last month, and my Chair was fully involved in that process, and I think that would be the case for DRC and EOC as well. And that has been quite new, for us, actually, I think his predecessor had no involvement directly in an interview process that led to recommendations going up to the Secretary of State; so this has been quite a new twist for us, even post Nolan. And, obviously, my Chair and Mr Singh very much welcome the opportunity to have a direct role in the interviewing process; but, obviously, the decisions were taken by the Secretary of State.
  (Mr Heiser) Sir Sydney, I think you introduced the notion of lay members, and it is not a sidetrack. On the Care Standards Commission, where I sit, we had quite a discussion about the value of lay members, and I think we are coming away from thinking about lay members to thinking about members of the Commission who represent different interests, such as users and consumers. And I do not want to sidetrack the discussion, but I think it may be useful just to unpick that, to find out who it is that we actually want to be on the various bodies, whether they are completely lay, or quite what the purpose is.

  Chairman: I think that is interesting.

Sir Sydney Chapman

  782. Just for my part, I do not want to suggest that the Secretary of State should not appoint the Commissioners; you could argue, presumably, and I am thinking of the Disability Rights Commission, where ten of the 15 are disabled people, but it may be only a Secretary of State can guarantee the diversity and the correct proportions that we are all striving for. But I think it was Barbara Roche who said that there was a lack of diversity in public appointments, perhaps because there was a lack of awareness; and the question is, what is that lack of awareness due to, is it due to just public apathy, or is it due to the unawareness of people, that these public bodies need people like them to be on them? Would you like to comment on that?
  (Mr Massie) I would like to say one thing, there are lots of issues in here, it is not just lack of awareness. Certainly, Government advertising for appointments is hardly designed to be trendy and to be eye-catching, it is all pretty bland stuff, so you have got to be, I suspect, fairly interested to pick out those adverts; but, for disabled people, there are a huge number of disincentives to apply. First of all, the advertisements are often not in the disability press, and often not in formats accessible to disabled people, and the history of different Departments will vary on that, between the good and not so good. But, secondly, for disabled people who are unemployed, and where there is a fee involved with the public appointment, they could well end up losing their social security benefits. And, in fact, only this week, I received a letter, I spoke to the gentleman this morning, so he has given me permission to name him, he is Doctor Levy, who is on the Board of a Chester Hospital, and he has multiple sclerosis, he is a psychologist, and, because of changes to social security legislation, if he stays on, his benefits will be cut dramatically, and frankly he cannot afford that, and when he goes on to lower rate benefits he might not get back on to the higher rate ones. So here is a very able man, who is going to have to surrender a public appointment because of the benefits system, which is so hostile. Now had he been a councillor in Chester there would be no problem, because more sensible rules would then apply, there would have been no problem at all, he would have got the fees, his position would not have been affected. So there is an inconsistency within the rulings covering these issues; and disabled people are very conscious of these things. It is also recognising, even on expenses, that many disabled people cannot just jump on the bus, you have to meet expensive taxi fares; you then might also have to meet the cost of someone to travel with somebody, because if they are going to participate, they might need to have somebody with them, and that is an extra cost. It also has to be recognised, and disabled people need to know it will be recognised, that serving the public, in one capacity or another, will not actually be a huge financial drain on people who, by and large, do not have the money to drain away from them in the first place.

Chairman

  783. Thank you for that, and thank you for the note which you have done us on this; it is something that we shall look at, of course.
  (Ms Mellor) Can I perhaps add to that. I would agree with Barbara Roche, that I think there is a lack of awareness, but I think it is part of a broader context about a lack of awareness, about how Government operates, and requires looking at the whole approach, specific education and democratic engagement, I think it is much broader than the issues that are specifically being looked at here. But I would agree with Bert, that there are some disincentives for particular kinds of candidates, and I would just like to mention two for women. One is a similar one to the one you were raising about expenses, which is, because women are still, in the main, the primary carers, they are more likely to have childcare expenses associated with pursuing public appointments, and different hours than their normal job, for example. And the other is that I think there is a kind of confidence disincentive, in that, if you do not see people like you fulfilling that kind of role, you think, "Well, they don't want people like me," so you do not apply. And I think that is where the other point that I made at the beginning, in addition to the consistency argument, was about outreach, and that is where I think the outreach is so important; so that if there are not people like them, whoever it is, that the Departments looking to encourage applications actually go out and encourage them, and give a different message than the one that the profile is currently giving, and saying, "Look, this is the role, this is the kind of experience we think is really valuable to help us in fulfilling these roles in public appointments; that means people like you," and I think that is critical.
  (Mr Silverstone) I wonder if I might give you a couple of examples, that we are currently engaged with, along the theme that Julie has just mentioned, in terms of outreach. We are working with an organisation called Operation Black Vote, which I think may have given evidence here, whose initial focus was obviously increasing ethnic minority participation in the political process, and particularly the House of Commons and local authorities. They are now taking their model into the magistracy, with some success this year, in terms of improving the appointments within the magistracy. We are also working closely with a national NGO, called the Council of Ethnic Minority Voluntary Organisations, who are building up a database of minority people with whom they have come in contact, who have expressed an interest in serving on public bodies. I think this goes back directly to Julie's point, about the need to do more than just advertise in The Guardian or The Sunday Times, to attract candidates from, in our case, minority backgrounds, to come forward to present their candidacy for public bodies. We are very happy to share that information with you.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mr Heyes

  784. I am afraid my question will require each of you to answer in turn, I think, and it is on the issue of the Government being said to be looking at the feasibility of a single Equality Commission. From the point of view of our inquiry, do you think that that will help or hinder the achievement of diversity in the way public bodies are constituted?
  (Ms Mellor) I think there are probably pros and cons, in terms of this issue. If I can give a couple of pros. I think, what we have seen, in terms of the progress that has been made on gender has been mainly white women, and one of the things that particularly concerns my organisation is actually the continuing failure to attract and select ethnic minority and disabled women, in particular, and perhaps younger women as well, to public appointments. And I think we do do lots of work together, and, in fact, we have done work on the political representation together, but I think that being able to look through several lenses at once could be facilitated by having one organisation looking across the six strands.

  785. And, from the point of view of how your body is constituted, do you think it would have an impact; you would have less of a voice in the management of your organisation, for example, and that might be one argument? The gender issues might have less of a voice in the way the organisation is managed, you would have less of a share; is that an issue?
  (Ms Mellor) Is it not about all of us, and we all have a multiple identity?

Chairman

  786. I would bring you in again, but we have not got time for all that. But your short answer is, yes, it will advance the diversity agenda across Government, is that the short answer?
  (Ms Mellor) I think it has that potential; it will be up to the way it is set up and delivered.

  787. I think you mean `yes', do you not, really?
  (Ms Mellor) The Equal Opportunities Commission has developed a set of principles that we believe should be used to develop the future institutional arrangements; if those principles are met, in a single equality body, then I would say yes; so it is a qualified yes.
  (Mr Silverstone) Ours would also be a qualified yes. I think our three Commissions have responded in broadly similar fashion to the Government's proposals, and, obviously, today is not the day to have a long discussion about the pros and cons of the proposals; clearly, with the Article 13 strands now having to be implemented, the Government, quite sensibly, do not seem keen to set up four, different, additional equality bodies. But I think our common approach, in our individual responses, is that the principles need to be established before the institution is established, and we would like to see a single Equality Act, we would like to see equity in terms of legal rights for the groups already covered and the groups that will be covered by the Act; which comes back to Julie's first point, on the public duty. I think there are different resonances for ethnic minority communities, who are, after all, our key stakeholders, and indeed for disabled people, and they will speak on that in a minute. At the moment, the debate around the single equality body is very much within the SW1 beltway, they have not really got out into communities, they certainly have not been picked up by the black press or the black media. And I think there will be an argument that will need to be had, if we are moving down the line towards a single equality body, that the interests and needs and the daily realities of discrimination that black and ethnic minority people still face in this country will not be submerged within a much larger body. The CRE may not be universally loved within ethnic minority communities in this country, but it is still regarded as the national body that fights the cause for minority communities; so we will wish to ensure that any move towards a single equality body does not dilute the drive towards equality in our area.
  (Mr Massie) I am slightly cooler than my colleagues on this one, and, of course, the DRC is only two years old, and the campaign to get a Disability Discrimination Act through Parliament started in 1981, so it is only 20 years later we got the DRC. And one of the major issues in the disability field since the 1970s onwards has been a demand for disabled people to be allowed to control our own affairs; we have every respect for what non-disabled people do for us, but they do not really understand disability, and a lot of the delays in getting improvements have been because non-disabled people in positions of power simply could not understand what being disabled was all about. That is not to say there are not non-disabled people who are really very supportive, they are doing a great deal, but in general terms. And when the DRC was set up, the Act requires only about half the members to be disabled, in fact, as you heard earlier, it is two-thirds, and it would be impossible in a single body to have that degree of influence amongst disabled people, so we would have to hand over the influence of power to non-disabled people, who would then be dictating the agenda to disabled people, and, with respect, they would get it wrong, we know they would. So how do you get round that; well, Danny has already referred to it. There is a quite simple way of making this workable, and that is for the Government, before you establish this new body, to say, "Okay, one of your real issues about the DRC is not about who can enforce the law," I have got disabled lawyers and I have got non-disabled lawyers, they are very good lawyers, they can enforce the law, and that is not another problem for me; it is actually what needs doing to get it right, what should the law be, and we know what the law should be. The Disability Rights Task Force produced a string of recommendations, the Government has said, in its last manifesto, it will introduce a number of them, and we do not yet have a date of a Bill to do that, and that is making us a little anxious. The DRC has recently published a legislative review, where we have looked at the workings of the Disability Discrimination Act since 1995, or to be more precise 1996, when it started coming in to force, and we make recommendations for legislation there. You have already heard about the inconsistency on the public duty. The Government said, on human rights, I will come back on that in a moment, that the DRC will not be given powers to help disabled people use the Human Rights Act, which Government could give us by a stroke of the pen, because they wanted consistency, and yet, following the race riots, immediately CRE got public duty rights. So there was an inconsistency even in how the Government was behaving, they are still saying one thing and doing another. So if you had a single Equality Act and you upgraded all the legislation to the best currently, and you picked up the new themes, then, the policy agenda would not disappear, it would become a much less critical issue. It would become a monitoring issue; and you would not be looking for new legislation too quickly anyway, because new legislation needs time to settle before you can assess it. So if the Government then said "Let's have a single Equality Act, let's be serious about equality, let's not just talk about it with institutions, let's actually get the fundamentals right," then I think that would be putting the horse before the cart, that would be terrific. But, if you have a single equality body and then you have the Act, it is the cart before the horse. What we are facing is a single equality body and no single Equality Act, so it is a cart and no horse. And that, to me, is not good politics. And I can understand why disabled people and disability organisations, even now, are starting campaigns to save the DRC; it is not that the DRC will last for ever, no institution lasts for ever, things do change, life moves on. And it could well be that we follow the Hepple Report, which was published two years ago, that recommended a single Equality Act, and then said it would then be a logical consequence to have a single Equality Commission; now I can go along with that. But what the Government are doing, instead of taking a very positive line, saying, "Hey, what we really believe here is an equal society, and here's where we're going to do it," that is saying "Oh, gosh, we've got this European Directive and the last thing we want is another three Commissions." Well I can understand that; but there are other arrangements that they could choose. But there is still time to retrieve the situation, and if the Government did this right it could work; if they do it wrong, it could be a very severe retrograde step for disabled people.

Mr Heyes

  788. I would like to invite Bryan to answer as well?
  (Mr Heiser) I would defer to Bert on this, which was why I slipped out to the toilet just now.

Mr Wright

  789. A number of issues that we have heard of today, and have been raised over a number of years, such as the loss of benefits, travel problems, and indeed what you have just mentioned about the application forms being hostile in certain cases, there are obstacles being put in the way of people from various minority groups going onto public bodies. Is it one of the biggest obstacles though, people being made aware of those appointments and those vacancies, and could you just comment on the basis of your own particular magazines and your publications, does the Government actually advertise the public appointment vacancies within your organisations?
  (Mr Massie) The DRC does not produce a magazine in which the Government could realistically advertise. But I was speaking at a conference yesterday of the College of Occupational Therapists, and Government does advertise in their magazines, for OTs throughout the Health Service; and they were concerned, for financial reasons, I think for other reasons also, that the Government proposes to put all those advertisements in the future onto Government websites, and that does presuppose that you are computer literate. And, obviously, computers can be adapted for blind people but not all websites are accessible for blind people. So if the Government continues just pushing the `e' agenda then there will be a downside for some; but, equally, an upside for others. If you can complete an application form electronically and you have got access to a computer, for some disabled people that is often easier, because then you have not got to get out and find a post-box. So there are pros and cons. But I suspect one of the issues is that disabled people have been excluded from society for so long, I am really talking about centuries, that amongst many disabled people there is a lack of self-confidence. We need to enable people to believe "Hey, I can do this, I can contribute." And also I wonder whether, when people who are in the public arena acquire disability, they then actually down-play their disability. I do know some disabled people who have been very senior figures in public life, but they would never thank you for reminding them they were disabled, and they would never make an issue of it themselves. And I think that there is still, in our own community, I think they still have a battle to say, "Okay, you're disabled; it's no big deal, don't be ashamed of it, be proud of it, get on with life and admit what you are." So I think the issues really are very complex. But I think the public bodies need to be seen to be welcoming.
  (Mr Heiser) Could I perhaps add to that, just carrying on with the disability angle. If by our magazines we can widen that to, for example, the newspapers read by disabled people, that are produced by disabled people, then I think there is a real issue, that comes back to what Julie raised at the very beginning, about consistency; because you will find that some Government Departments will advertise for public appointments in `Disability Now', and a lot will not, and there seems to be no consistency there.

  790. You say that a lot will not; is it a case that they—
  (Mr Heiser) A lot do not.

  791. Do not, rather than will not, yes.
  (Mr Heiser) Whether it is do not or will not, we cannot say, but all the way through we have seen an inconsistency in the way Government Departments actually respond to this whole issue, from advertising to actually reporting to Parliament on how many disabled people are appointed to public bodies, where I think half the Departments that are meant to report do not actually report; so it is very hard to know what is going on. Again, consistency.
  (Mr Silverstone) We do publish a quarterly magazine, and I am not aware of any Government advertisements for public appointments appearing in it, although our current edition does carry a short article talking about public appointments and the interest in seeing more minority candidates coming through. We have also advised recently the Public Appointments Unit on specific ethnic media that they might care to use as part of their advertising campaigns. But if I can make a more general point, in response to your question, I think, obviously, resources is an issue for any Government Department, but I think there is also a mind set issue here, and I think, in a sense, it picks up my colleague's point that has just been made. The ads that do appear will almost always, in my experience, be for disability or race or gender-specific or related functions, there are tens of thousands of these bodies, most of them with fairly arcane responsibilities. I think that the point that I think we would all want to make to this Committee is, we need to be serious about opening up non-executive opportunities in all of them. Now, obviously, resource constraints will apply, but in the world of new technology, that we are all grappling with now, there are very easy ways of contacting non-traditional candidates, if you want to. And the last point that I would make is, I think the Government Offices in the regions could play an important role in constantly updating databases of potential candidates; and I know, from my previous job, that the Government Office in London played a particularly important role in identifying potential black candidates for public duty appointments in London, which had quite a substantial effect over a relatively short period of time. And I would have thought the Government Offices in the regions, if they are doing their jobs properly, which is to be the Government's eyes and ears within regional territory, ought to play a key role in this.
  (Ms Mellor) The Cabinet Office has been doing, as I am sure you heard from Barbara Roche, a series of regional seminars, encouraging women to apply for national public appointments, and, in fact, we advertised that through our Equality Exchange newsletter. But I think, again, I would add to that, in saying, that, of course, would not be sufficient, and would very much support what is being said about particularly using targeting voluntary organisations, who may be disabled people's organisations, ethnic minority community organisations, women's organisations. And I would just qualify that by saying I think targeting is very important, coming back to Danny's point about resources, there are going to be finite resources, and that is where it is important to know who your applicants currently are, and where the gaps are, and there is not consistent monitoring of that. For example, if an organisation had been successful in recruiting disabled candidates through advertising through disability organisations, or through workplaces where people would have the relevant expertise, who might be disabled, they would be much less likely to attract disabled women, because there is a significant difference, disabled women are much less likely to be in work, much more likely to have caring responsibilities, and so it might be actually through public services that those women are using that you might want to advertise, if that is who you are trying to attract, to get a more heterogeneous profile in your applicants. So I think the targeting of the outreach is critical.
  (Mr Massie) One other point, about fairly senior appointments, and this not only affected me, I know it has affected others, but I shall not name others, is, if you take a job which is virtually full-time, I really got the impression, when I came to the DRC, that what they were looking for was somebody who already had a decent pension, that this was a job for somebody, "You've made your money, old boy, and, you know, it's a nice little bit of pin money to keep you going," and it was just totally unrealistic. And when I was appointed there was a little bit of controversy, because the terms and conditions were changed, and they were; because I just could not have gone to work for what they were offering. One, on the days a week, it meant quite a low salary, but, secondly, no pension rights. And I really do think, and I know they have had this from other people as well, that, if you want to get a wider range of the community to apply for these things, we have really got to move away from what appears to be an underlying belief system that public jobs are really something just to fill in the time for somebody who has now really had their working life. If you want to get serious people in, you have got to recognise that, actually, we do need pensions, we do need proper working conditions. And I really would ask the Committee to look at that issue rather carefully.

Chairman

  792. It is interesting, that point. But is not that, again, like the diversity and merit issue? Is not there a problem of principle and approach here, because the model that you are describing is a model that involves getting a class of full-time quangocrats, who are going to come and that is going to be their job, it is going to be their life, it is going to give them pensions, and all that? Does not that cut across the idea of opening up, diversity, bringing in?
  (Mr Massie) Not necessarily, because those quangocrats would not have it within their power to ensure they were continuously appointed, they would have to apply, like anybody else, because all these jobs have a fixed term of office. And that is another issue, that with most jobs you have got a job for some time, until you blow it, or whatever; with public appointments, they are all for a fixed term. I am not disagreeing with that, one does need turnover. But I think, in the appointments process, you could guard against quangocrats, as you call them. My real point is not the quangocrats, who are looking for creating quangos, it is the people who are prepared to spend part of their life contributing; but actually, and in the case of disabled people we have high costs of living anyway, there is a question of how much of a sacrifice any of us can make to serve the public. Because when the jobs go, and they will go, inevitably, our pension rights are being virtually destroyed, because we were not given pensions, and a whole range of other things, and so you carry on paying for the job long after you have stopped doing it. And I am not even saying what the pension should be, I am just saying that it seems to rest on the principle that these issues do not matter, that the people who can afford to do these jobs are those who need something to fill in their time now, not the people who actually say, "I really can contribute towards this particular public policy." And if it is only one day a month, or two days a month, or whatever, which many of these posts are, then clearly you are not going to go into pensions; but even then there are problems. We have them with DRC. We pay Commissioners, I think it is, 138 a day, and when you look at what different groups are paid across Government you will find that there is no rationale to the salary levels or the payment levels, it seems to be on some whim, and that should be looked at. But I have people who work for disability organisations, and this may apply to other organisations, I do not know about that, in disability organisations it is quite normal for staff to take fees and give it straight back to the organisation they worked for, they have got their salary, they do not want to make extra cash, so they take the money, but then they get taxed on it. What we need to do, for people like that, is say, "Okay, the fee can be paid straight to your organisation, regardless of tax considerations; it doesn't come near you, therefore it's not taxed." Now that is what disabled people and those who work for disability organisations want, they do not actually want to take the money themselves, 100 a day, or whatever it is, they want it to go straight to their employer, because they think, "Well, I'm here for a day, I'm being paid by my organisation to be here, so that's fine, I want the money to go straight to them." It is actually very difficult to do; it has huge complications and it is just a bureaucratic nightmare, which, if Government so wishes, they could just blow away.

  793. This is the other area about consistency, too, I think, getting a common approach.
  (Ms Mellor) Can I just add to that, in the sense of, I think, your question about quangocrats, I think, actually, the issues depend upon the time required by the public appointment, and I think the issues that Bert and I have both raised are that while you would not necessarily expect someone, where the time requirement is small, to be paid a significant amount or have a contribution to a pension, you do not expect them to be paying the state to fulfil the role because they have lost income at work, or because they have got additional childcare costs, or because they are losing benefit. So there are issues to look at about the compensation in relation to that. And then I would endorse what Bert has said about where the time requirement is much more significant and actually prevents you having other paid work then, obviously, you have got to look at the implications for that person at that point in their life, and all the issues around pensions, and so on, are relevant.
  (Mr Massie) Can I say, when I was being put on the DRC, sorry to use this personally, but I think it does illustrate a point, I put it that, actually, one could not really live on the terms offered, and they said, "Ah, well, that's no trouble, you have the other days free so you can do other jobs." Now I could earn a lot of money as a lecturer, as a speaker, at conferences, I could earn a lot of money as a consultant, but what about conflicts of interest; it does not have to be a conflict of interest. As Chair of the DRC, I could put up my private fees remarkably, and say, "Ah, well, it's nothing to do with the DRC, it's just a private business." But, of course, realistically, by doing the job at the DRC, I exclude myself from all those earning opportunities, I just would not take them. It is clearly a conflict of interest.

  794. The only thing I am not sure about though is, I am sorry to interrupt, I think it is onto interesting territory, I am not sure how you could devise a system that would meet all the range of individual circumstances that people find themselves in. Because we have had people come and give evidence to us, and some of them are of the kind that you describe, for whom this is simply something extra, it is part of a portfolio; whereas you describe someone who clearly could not do it without childcare help, and so on. I am not just sure how you would devise a system that would accommodate the diversity of circumstances in which people find themselves?
  (Mr Massie) One issue is expenses, actually what does it cost an individual to serve on a certain committee, and whether that be childcare, extra travel costs, or whatever, that would be quantified, you say, yes, providing these expenses can be justified and are directly related to this task then that can be covered. So I think you can do that. When it comes to the pension, I really pick up what Julie was saying, if you are doing one or two days a month, this is clearly nothing, but if you are doing three or more days a week then that must limit your capacity elsewhere. And, given the Nolan Principles, it is quite difficult for somebody in a senior public post actually to earn money elsewhere, because there would be, even if you say, "Look, I'm too honourable to fall for this," there must be a perception of conflict of interest. Now you could say to those people, "Look, what we will do is we will make you entitled to the Civil Service salary scheme;" it would be a simple way of doing it, and the Civil Service has a scheme, I think MPs are part of it as well. You would say, "Okay, we will open up this scheme to people doing," I have said "three days a week," you might want to say two and a half, but, whatever, then that is basically the point where you put it. But that is the way you could do it, you say, "Yes, for the years in which you are doing this, we realise that realistically you cannot be contributing to a pension elsewhere, because you are not working anywhere else, so you have access to the Civil Service salary scheme." Then, of course, when you leave the post, as you would with any other job, your benefits would be frozen.
  (Ms Mellor) If I can just come back on it, because, with respect, I think it is not so much complicated as different, and we already expect, in compensating people for the expenses that they incur in taking these appointments, that those expenses will be different, if you are coming from Scotland to London for a meeting, or vice versa, the costs of your travel will be greater, we deal with it. And I think it is just because it is unknown and new that we have more difficulty getting our head round if someone has childcare costs, male or female, then they can be compensated for them. And so I think it is just a matter of recognising that if we have a greater range of people, with a greater range of different kinds of expenses, that you need an expense regime that deals with it.

  795. Means-tested?
  (Ms Mellor) No; compensation for the actual costs incurred.
  (Mr Massie) These are expenses, not income.
  (Mr Silverstone) Perhaps I could just say something, in the middle of all this. If we are really serious about attracting non-traditional people on merit onto public bodies then I think we have to accept that more of them are going to suffer from the kinds of issues that Julie and Bert have been bringing to the table today than people who have reached the end of their careers and are looking to continue, hopefully, honourably, in public service in another form. And it comes back to a mind set point. I think there is still an unspoken assumption that the majority of people who will want to put themselves forward to serve on public bodies will be over the age of 50, reaching the end of their careers, or have reached the end of their careers; now if we continue with that basis for recruiting to public bodies we will continue to have the disparities that we are discussing today.

  Chairman: It is an interesting issue that we have stumbled into, I think.

Mr Prentice

  796. On that point, I think a lot of people do not participate in public bodies because they feel totally alienated from the system; it is not that they do not have something to say, it is not that they do not have something to contribute, but that is just not where they are at. My question is really to Julie Mellor, because I am fascinated by this question of outreach, you were talking about, bringing in excluded groups, and just to let you know where I am coming from. I think there is a huge problem of awesome dimensions in getting Muslim women into the mainstream, I say Muslim women are invisible, invisible, in the public sphere. When I speak to Asian groups, in my constituency, I speak to a sea of beards, and the beards speak back to me, and I am interested in what kind of work is being done, outreach work, to find out what is happening amongst Muslim women and how we can bring them in?
  (Ms Mellor) I gather that the Cabinet Office seminars, that Barbara Roche has been organising, are particularly trying to attract, I think, minority women to those regional seminars, or at a regional level; that is one initiative that has taken place. It is actually something that, within the work of the Equal Opportunities Commission, one of our themes is women's representation in political and public life, and in our public life theme we hope, later this year, to begin some work to find out more about why ethnic minority women, in particular, what will empower them in communities , not just for public appointments but more broadly. So I cannot answer your question, but I agree with your analysis and think we need to do something about it.

  797. Do you know how many Muslim women are actually serving on public bodies? I do not know, I am not trying to trip you up, but have you any idea?
  (Mr Silverstone) I do not think that information could, or would, currently be captured in precisely that way, because no bodies monitor on the basis of religion, although they do monitor on the basis of race, so you would have to track it back through English Pakistani or English Bangladeshi, by gender. I think the answer is, very, very few.
  (Ms Mellor) I can tell you the overall figure; the overall figure for ethnic minority women's representation on public bodies is apparently 1.3 per cent.

  798. Yes, but it is Muslim women I am interested in.
  (Ms Mellor) Absolutely, but if it is 1.3 per cent overall...

  799. I have asked the Government if they would collect statistics on religion, and they are not prepared to do that; but unless the statistics are collected on religious affiliation then we are never going to know the participation of Muslim women?
  (Mr Massie) It is quite interesting, if it comes at 1.3 per cent; there are 8Ö million disabled people, that is 1.5 per cent.
  (Ms Mellor) It is really to endorse what you are saying and actually its criticality to cohesive communities. Herman Ousley, in his report for Bradford, identified specifically that some of the only work that was taking place across those divided communities was young Asian and white women, so it was the women that were working across communities. So I do believe the involvement of Muslim and other ethnic minority women, particularly where there is residential segregation, is key, because women seem to find it easier to work across communities, as we have seen in Northern Ireland as well.

 


 
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